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Reflections on Leaving India

Are you Tim Challies?” These are not words I was expecting to hear while waiting to retrieve my luggage at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. I had just flown from Lucknow to New Delhi as I began a marathon journey back to Canada. And now I was standing by the luggage belt, waiting to move to the next stage of the journey. But I’m getting ahead of myself a little bit.

Thursday was our last day in India—our last full day, at any rate. We spent most of the day in and around Lucknow, seeing the city, looking at the sights, and enjoying the company of our hosts. Lucknow is a small city only in comparison to one as huge and sprawling as New Delhi. Though it is awfully busy, it seems almost laid back by comparison to Delhi. What may stand out most about the city, at least from what we saw, is the almost inconceivably massive Ambedkar Memorial. Former Chief Minister Mayawati built many of these monuments across Utter Pradesh, supposedly as a tribute to India’s Dalit’s, the untouchables. In reality they are monuments to herself and calls to turn from Hinduism to Buddhism. Built with hundreds of millions of dollars of government money, these monuments are opulent beyond description, an utter waste of money and space in a nation with so many pressing needs. Though beautifully built, many people in India consider them symbolic of government futility and corruption.

After eating a final dinner with our friends, we set out for the airport, enjoying one final experience of India’s roadways. A quick flight took us to New Delhi—a flight that seemed as rushed as any travel on the ground, though without all the horn-honking. How often does a one-hour flight land fifteen minutes early? We give a thumbs up to IndiGo Airlines.

And then, as we picked up our baggage, someone asked, “Are you Tim Challies?” There were two British pastors standing there, waiting to fetch their bags. Like us they had been in Uttar Pradesh with a Christian group and they had been training pastors to understand and to teach the Bible. They had kept up with my blog while in India and made the connection between me and the blog when they saw someone whose ethnicity set him apart from the Indian crowd a little bit. We ended up spending a couple of enjoyable hours together while waiting for our flights home.

The reason I mention these two pastors is that Murray and I found that their assessment of the church in northern India was very nearly identical to our own. The church there is growing quickly, but it is lacking in depth. There are a growing number of leaders there who love the Lord, who are eager to serve him, and who are doing this very well. Yet they are lacking in training and in resources. It was a joy to hear that these men had been involved in training pastors in years past and that they intend to carry on that work in years to come. This year they spent a whole week of eight-hour days investing in the church of northern India by investing in her pastors. It was one of the Lord’s unexpected blessings that we got to spend this time with them.

And now I am writing from 34,000 feet above the Arabian Gulf. We will land in Dubai, spend a couple of hours in the airport there, and then climb aboard a 14-hour flight to Toronto, hopefully arriving some time on Friday afternoon. As I leave India behind, I find myself reflecting on my time with Redeemer Church in Dubai, with Delhi Bible Fellowship and with these leaders of a growing movement of churches centered in Lucknow but spreading through the state of Uttar Pradesh, I think two lessons stand out above the rest.

The first I have already mentioned—that the church in northern India is growing, but that it could benefit so much from resources and from training. This is their self assessment and by all appearances it is true. The church in Dubai and New Delhi are growing as well, but I believe that Uttar Pradesh is the area with the greatest immediate need and with the sorest scarcity of resources. The other two churches have available to them all the teaching and training the English language offers; the church in northern India has only what is available in Hindi.

The second is the value of mentoring the next generation of leaders. Each of the three churches invests heavily in internship programs and through these programs they are training up future leaders for themselves along with a new generation of church planters. Each of these churches models this so well—the consistent and costly investment in the future. That was both an encouragement and a challenge. There are many churches in North America and the rest of the world that would do well to learn from them, I am sure. Grace Fellowship Church is no exception.

Allow me one final observation. When I visited the Dominican Republic several years ago, we were invited to write about everything we saw and experienced while we were there. The world has changed, even in those few years. Today I cannot write quite as openly because where I travel, there is Internet access and with it, Facebook and Twitter and blogs. I cannot write about people as I did before, because now they might just read it.

The flight is bumpy and my eyes are heavy—it has been more than twenty-four hours since I woke up—so I will sign off. I trust that the next time I begin a blog entry, it will be from my home.